Commentary

Independent districting commission prizes people over politics

October 6, 2021 5:15 am

Like much of the country, Montana is in the middle of our community districting process.  Montana is uniquely positioned in this process because of our independent, bipartisan commission that decides the lines that define our districts for the next 10 years.

It feels like partisan politics overshadows most things these days, but this independent  commission, mandated by Montana’s constitution, offers a decision-making body that prioritizes collaboration, data, and Montana communities over single party politics.  

The commission has already demonstrated their commitment to Montanans over  politics in their handling of allocating incarcerated people. Currently, incarcerated people are counted in the U.S. Census as residents in the jail or prison where they are serving  their sentence. As a result, areas with a large incarcerated population, like Deer Lodge  or Billings, have a higher number of people than actual voters; ultimately, giving voters  in these towns more power than those in towns without incarcerated populations.

By deciding to allocate incarcerated Montanans at their last known address, the commission is investing in making democracy a reality for all of us.  

The commission will now shift to putting lines on paper for our new Congressional map, which includes our newly earned second congressional district. Community districting is the first step towards electing leaders who will listen to everyday Montanans. I was proud to see our commissioners prioritize competitiveness and fairness in the criteria they adopted in July.  

Elected officials in competitive districts have to compete for votes, making them far more engaged and interested in their constituents. As an employee of the Public Defender’s office that covers multiple counties, including Yellowstone County, I see  firsthand how the decisions of our elected officials impact our neighbors and our  community’s access to resources. I know that an elected official who listens will always do better than one who doesn’t.  

Community districting directly affects all Montanans because it determines how candidates engage with communities to earn our vote. The commission lined out important criteria to use when deciding on new district maps. One key criteria is ensuring maps don’t favor one political party over another. We do this through  competitive maps.  

I learned Montana has long led the nation in fair districting, with the creation of the  independent commission through the 1972 Constitutional Convention. As the commission moves into the final weeks of drawing our new Congressional map, I hope they’ll continue this legacy by adopting a congressional map that’s competitive and does  not unduly favor one political party over another. This map will define our state for a  decade — let’s make sure that we’re defining Montana with integrity.  

Recently, politicians decried prioritizing competitiveness as a feature of our congressional map. I hope that the commission will see through these partisan claims and continue to hold themselves to the high standards that our democracy demands.  

The Districting and Apportionment Commission wants to hear from us. You can be a part of this conversation and contact the Commission by visiting mtredistricting.gov.  

All of these opinions and views stated are my own and do not represent any agency or  entity.  

Simon Harris is originally from Oregon but is happy to call Montana home. He works for  the State of Montana as a social worker, and lives in the North Side neighborhood of Billings. 

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